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I remember reading an article in 2001 that described how a health information management department had successfully implemented a remote coding program that resulted in boosted retention, increased morale, and improved overall performance of the department. Even though 2001 wasn’t that long ago, it feels like it has been much longer since the days when many coding professionals were working in the basement of a hospital, still coding from paper charts, the idea of being able to work from home much more dream than reality.
Fast forward to today, and it is an expectation that coders to be allowed to work from home, whether it be from day one or after a brief period of training. Coders want the guarantee that they will be allowed to telecommute at some point. Many people enter the industry with the main objective of someday being able to work from home. There is no denying that remote work has been a major factor in job satisfaction. However, initially, it wasn’t all about the coders. There was a lot of benefit in it for the employers. Employers believed that coders would be more productive if they could work from home. In addition, it opened the candidate pool for those employers with the ability to hire in different states. Coders could live in Ohio and work for an employer in California without having to relocate. Employers would no longer have to pay for contract coders to come work onsite. It was ideal for both parties.
There were other industries in the telecommuter game long before healthcare. In recent years, some of these industries have begun to call their employees back into the office. In March 2017, IBM announced that thousands of employees would return to the office; this came after employees had been allowed to work from home for over 30 years. Yahoo, Aetna, Bank of America, and Best Buy are some other employers that have cancelled or revised telecommuter work policies. There have been many reasons and opinions given on why these companies chose to bring their employees back into the office. To generalize, it simply did not work for the business needs of the employer.
Will this be the case in healthcare?
Are coders still more productive when they work from home? That’s debatable. For one, there are so many more distractions than there once were (e.g. social media and Netflix). Sure, many coders are dedicated and fully meeting the productivity requirements. However, there are some that are not. Some appear to be but when you really look at the data there are large gaps of unaccounted-for time.
Are employees still engaged? One could argue that a tradeoff of working remote was employee engagement. Do you remember the days when you could just lean your chair back and ask your coworker a question? Sure, we have Skype and email no, but many coworkers don’t know each other. Many have never met. Remember when you and a group of your coworkers used to go to lunch together? When you celebrated baby showers, weddings, and birthdays in the office? When you were genuinely connected and knew your coworkers? Times, it seems, have changed.
Are coders still climbing the coding ladder? Career advancement may be impacted for telecommuters. If a promotion requires a coder to come back to the office, they may not be interested. And for those that would be willing to return to the office for a promotion, they may not be on the boss’s radar. A study cited by the New York Times found that employees who worked from home are half as likely to be promoted. The workers in the study were considered to be happier overall, but 50 percent eventually asked to return to the office, citing loneliness (lack of engagement) and lack of career advancement.
Again, remote work has been a major source of job satisfaction for many coders and has been beneficial for employers as well. But it hasn’t been all peaches and cream, and I find myself wondering whether or not it will be the norm forever. What do you think?
Elena Miller is the director of coding audit and education at a healthcare system.